Mr. Nittoli: Teacher to thousands of Beaufort County students has legacy of humility and helpfulness

Published 4:17 pm Thursday, August 17, 2023

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Rick Nittoli, of Bath, shies away from any attention or recognition for his work; however, on Saturday night (Aug. 12) all eyes were on him at a birthday party hosted in his honor by people eager to celebrate a man who has inspired and helped thousands of local people. 

“I think the main reason that there are so many people is… I was the teacher of more people than anyone in this county, maybe ever. I don’t know how anyone could have taught more people than me over the last 50 years,” Nittoli said. 

Nittoli is a retired educator who spent 50 years teaching thousands of students in Beaufort County. He taught social studies and science at the former Bath High School for 22 years starting in 1970. He also taught at Washington High School’s extended day school and was an assistant principal at Northside High School for a combined 45 years then spent the next five as a substitute teacher.

Started in 1979, Washington High School’s extended day school was designed for troubled students who either received a high school diploma through the program or served time in jail. The classes took place at night. For 13 years, Nittoli would drive from Bath High School after teaching all day to teach at the extended day school – four nights a week for about two hours.

As most students, their families as well as school faculty and administrators enjoyed summer vacations and time off, Nittoli taught summer school at Washington High School for about three years, at P.S. Jones Middle School for two years, one summer Eastern Elementary School,  three years in Aurora and a summer at the former Chocowinity High School and one at the former John A. Wilkinson High School. 

“At every school I worked, the people that were running that school – if they couldn’t get somebody to do something – I don’t care if it was drive the bus, the activity bus to the football game or take pictures for the annual or giving a graduation speech – they knew that they could count on me…,” Nittoli said. 

Nittoli also dedicated his time to coaching junior varsity football and basketball and one year of baseball at Bath High School and became close friends with the late Bing Mitchell. 

He took night classes and earned two master’s degrees from East Carolina University before he started teaching at Washington High School’s extended day program. 

The kicker is not how much Nittoli did within those 50 years, but instead, the fact that he never missed a day of school, he shared. 

“I never missed a day of school or work in my life at any one of these schools or at any job I ever had,” Nittoli said. 

Nittoli, a little bashful about being interviewed, said “With helping students I never tried to be a big deal. I was a guy that would get the job done.” 

In every story shared with the Daily News about Nittoli a recurring theme appeared – his unwavering and unconditional generosity and helpfulness to anyone who was in need without requiring anything in return. 

Nittoli was ready to help his students whenever they needed him. Whether it was assistance with schoolwork or a ride home, he was there for his students. When Betsy Douglas Gray lost her father during senior year in 1975, Nittoli became a source of wisdom and guidance for her. 

“When I was in high school he was always there for me. He was great in guiding me where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do,” she said. “My senior year was a time where I needed to be guided, because I had lost my father. Nittoli picked up the pieces for me.” 

Nittoli’s philosophy as an educator was, “If I ever had any student – if they needed to see me or call me or needed some help with something I would be there.” 

Gray later said, “I think if everybody had a Nittoli, they’d have a better world.” 

Bath Town Manager Bubs Carson remembers Nittoli not only as an educator, but also as an administrator at a newly established Northside High School in the 1990’s. Carson is a 1973 graduate of Bath High School who was an administrator at several Beaufort County public schools. 

According to Carson, Nittoli and a small group of teachers from Bath High School and John A. Wilkinson High School (in Belhaven) formed a faculty for Northside High School. 

“I would say that Mr. Nittoli was an integral part of making Northside High School be as successful as it was going through that consolidation…I think he is partly responsible for the success of that school,” Carson shared. 

In Carson’s view, Nittoli is admired and respected, because he puts the needs of others before his own interests. “He was that type of person who wanted every child to succeed and he would do whatever it took to do that.” 

In the 1970’s, Nittoli was a young Vietnam War veteran with a Northern accent who was in perfect health. He could lift weights and run with 16 and 17 year old male students, impressing them all, Carson and Ron Moore said. 

“When you’re 16 or 17, you think of teachers as ancient, but that man could go in the weight room and pick up weights and we would all stand there and stare saying ‘how in the world is this man that strong?’ He was a true athlete with his speed and his strength. That was impressive to young guys in high school,” Carson said. 

Ron Moore, a 1972 graduate, shared that Nittoli could speed past the running backs in a 40-yard dash wearing khaki pants and brogan shoes. “He would run the 40 yard dash and he never lost.” 

Dwayne Lanier, a star football player at Bath High School, said he would not compete against Nittoli for fear of losing. 

Moore has kept in contact with Nittoli for the last 50 years. They’ve become friends who now both have cabins in Asheville. Moore is a retired District Attorney In Buncombe County, North Carolina who purchased a home in Beaufort County with his wife, Beth Arrowood

To Moore, Nittoli’s athleticism was impressive, but what made him interesting was his knowledge of every subject and life before becoming a teacher. Moore recalls students trying to stump Nittoli with questions, but every time Nittoli had an answer for them. 

“Mr. Nittoli is probably the smartest teacher I’ve ever had,” Moore said. “Whether it was Bath High School or UNC [Chapel Hill] or wherever, he knew everything…There wasn’t a question you could stump him with. We used to try.”  

Nittoli relied upon his life experiences to make his lessons relatable and interesting to students. 

“He had lived a lot of history. He had been to Vietnam so he had been on the other side of the world and knew things. He had a lot of interesting jobs. He would always intertwine a lot of times the life he lived with some of the history. It was always interesting,” Moore said. 

Before Nittoli started a career in education, he worked at local television stations WITN and WNCT as a camera operator and met many people like W.R. Robertson, Jr. and Edward R. Murrow. Robertson was president of WITN and Murrow was a prominent broadcast journalist who became head of the United States Information Agency. 

Today, Nittoli is a volunteer with nonprofit radio station, WCOM out of Carrboro, North Carolina. He is a co-host for Saturday Morning Music Hall with Rocco and C-Shay. Nittoli goes by “Rocco” on the air. The show plays hits from the 1940’s-1960’s. 

On Saturday, Aug. 19, he will host his 975th radio show on WCOM beginning at 9 a.m.

One of Nittoli’s friends, Doug Spero said, “they don’t make friends like him anymore,” referring to Nittoli’s loyalty to and support of his friends. 

“He reaches out to help you before you ask him for help,” Spero shared, adding his gratitude for the help, because as a disc jockey at WCOM, he runs into technical difficulties and Nittoli is always right there ready to help in any way he can. 

Spero was a reporter for CBS, ABC and NBC in New York City and later a News Director for WCTI and an associate professor of communications at Meredith College. He is now a volunteer with WCOM. 

Spero said if it wasn’t for Nittoli’s encouragement and mentorship, he wouldn’t have been able to fulfill a life-long wish of being a disc jockey. 

“He doesn’t think of himself first. He thinks of others, and he really doesn’t have a big ego like so many other people in the [media] business. He gets up in the morning, he goes out, he does his thing and he helps people and he’s a great communicator and then he goes home at night without asking for anything in return,” Spero said. 

At his birthday party on Saturday, Nittoli deflected his speech off of himself and instead focused on the people surrounding him saying, “all of them made me a better person. I became a better person, because of being their teacher or their administrator or their whatever.”